60 years into a career seems like an odd time to shake things up, but for iconic guitarist and blues-man Jeff Beck, the timing could not be any more perfect.
At 72, Jeff Beck has done and seen it all. He’s one of England’s ‘big three’ alongside Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and has played alongside the likes of Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, and Roger Waters. It’s hard to point to a time in Beck’s career where he let anyone pave a path for him, and although he might not have the recognition Clapton and Page do, he’s regarded as one of the most technical guitar players ever. So why is Technicality, or what Beck considers “guitar nerd rock”, nowhere to be found on this new record? Because even the greats need to shake things up every once and awhile.
Beck recruited guitarist Carmen Vandenberg and Vocalist Rosie Bones of the UK rock duo Bones to help write, record, and tour in support of his latest record. The eleventh studio effort from Beck is entitled “Loud Hailer”, another term for megaphone often used in the UK. Beck and his female counterparts in Bones approached the record as if they themselves were at a rally and handed a loud hailer, writing and recording the album as a dialogue. The message is clear: the world is a nasty place right now, and if we don’t speak up for change, then it’s going to stay nasty. Considering the way 2016 has played out in its first 7 months, the album is as topical as it is conceptual.
Live in the Dark is the second song on Loud Hailer, and feels more accessible than some of Beck’s recent works. This is a song you could hear on the radio today, and not the 11 minutes virtuoso soloing we’ve heard of Beck’s recent releases. In fact, the 6 year gap between records was due much in part to a distaste for the way Beck was beginning to settle into the “guitar nerd rock” genre. In the 60s, Beck made a name for himself in the Yardbirds, a band that played straight forward rhythm and blues with distorted guitars and catchy melodies. It’s got 2016 written all over it, but Live in the Dark is a nice compromise between 60s invasion rock and the mainstream sound rock has today.
Just because Jeff Beck is moving towards a more modern, mainstream sound does not mean any of his talent goes unused, or style is silenced. In fact, my favorite song on Loud Hailer, “Right Now”, shows off what was so great about the British Invasion. Catchy riffs and hard rock music are not mutually exclusive, and in the 1960s, bands like Beck’s Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin understood this well. With the simplicity of the blues and a steady rhythm, a song could draw in a wide array of music fans. Modern outfits like the Black Keys and Jack White carry on this tradition, but serve as no match to Jeff Beck’s ability to carry a riff.
It’s worth noting the rhythm section briefly as well. Bassist Giovanni Pallotti and drummer Davide Sollazzi both hail from Rome, and are young talents who deserve this level of recognition. A concept often missed by the casual listener is that when you have a large talent like Beck playing lead, they’re only going to sound as good as their rhythm section. Stevie Ray Vaughan had double trouble, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, and luckily for Jeff Beck, Pallotti and Sollazzi rise to the occasion on Loud Hailer.
No song on Loud Hailer clocks in at more than 7 minutes, with most sitting comfortably anywhere between 3 and 5. If Jeff Beck’s goal was to deliver a fresh message with the stylistic ugliness of the world he sees around him, he accomplished that mission with flying colors. I can’t give enough credit to guitarist Carmen Vandenberg and Vocalist Rosie Bones for holding their own. I would not be surprised to see another collaboration with Beck in the future, and eagerly await to see what they do with their band Bones the next time they hit the studio.
What contemporaries like Santana and Eric Clapton failed to do with their albums earlier this year was make a claim that they’re still recording relevant music today. Neither release seemed compelling enough to make me want more, but Loud Hailer has me excited to see what Jeff Beck does moving forward with his already illustrious career.